Spooky, inventive, funny, maybe a tad didactic or cloying here and there, Winterson’s mixed bag of fictional treats has a...

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CHRISTMAS DAYS

12 STORIES AND 12 FEASTS FOR 12 DAYS

Ghosts, fairies, self-revelation, and friendly seasonal recipes give this collection a potentially wide-ranging appeal for readers as well as gift shoppers.

Winterson (The Gap of Time, 2015, etc.), the versatile British writer, has gathered 12 Yule-themed stories in a book laced with bits of autobiography both in the introduction—a handy guide to the history of Christmas—and in the dishes she describes after each tale. She is especially good with the supernatural, using eerie and magical elements in ways that hark back to Poe and Dickens. In “Spirit of Christmas,” a child trapped in “BUYBUYBABY, the world’s biggest department store,” helps a couple shed their materialism. “Christmas in New York” has an O. Henry feel as its hero discovers the explanations behind the magic that cures his misanthropy. Apparitions, strange noises, a madman, a kitchen knife, and a Stephen King–ish turn near the end—all these make “Dark Christmas” very dark indeed. “The Snowmama” brings some entertaining playfulness and silly puns (soul becomes Snowl) to the living-snowman idea. “The Silver Frog,” with suggestions of Oliver Twist and Roald Dahl’s Matilda, arranges a plague of magic silver frogs to deal with the meanie heading an orphanage. The story stands in counterpoint to the author’s laconic “I am adopted and it didn’t go well.” Winterson’s prose is often witty and sometimes lyrical, as in this description of Bethlehem before the first Christmas in the quite wonderful “The Lion, the Unicorn and Me”: “a musty, rusty, fusty pudding of a town…its people cussed and blustering.” The recipes seem doable and appetizing and come with intriguing glimpses of the writer, her friends, and their Christmas rituals.

Spooky, inventive, funny, maybe a tad didactic or cloying here and there, Winterson’s mixed bag of fictional treats has a 19th-century charm much needed in the grim 21st.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2583-5

Page Count: 305

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

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THE BAZAAR OF BAD DREAMS

STORIES

A gathering of short stories by an ascended master of the form.

Best known for mega-bestselling horror yarns, King (Finders Keepers, 2015, etc.) has been writing short stories for a very long time, moving among genres and honing his craft. This gathering of 20 stories, about half previously published and half new, speaks to King’s considerable abilities as a writer of genre fiction who manages to expand and improve the genre as he works; certainly no one has invested ordinary reality and ordinary objects with as much creepiness as King, mostly things that move (cars, kid’s scooters, Ferris wheels). Some stories would not have been out of place in the pulp magazines of the 1940s and ’50s, with allowances for modern references (“Somewhere far off, a helicopter beats at the sky over the Gulf. The DEA looking for drug runners, the Judge supposes”). Pulpy though some stories are, the published pieces have noble pedigrees, having appeared in places such as Granta and The New Yorker. Many inhabit the same literary universe as Raymond Carver, whom King even name-checks in an extraordinarily clever tale of the multiple realities hidden in a simple Kindle device: “What else is there by Raymond Carver in the worlds of Ur? Is there one—or a dozen, or a thousand—where he quit smoking, lived to be 70, and wrote another half a dozen books?” Like Carver, King often populates his stories with blue-collar people who drink too much, worry about money, and mistrust everything and everyone: “Every time you see bright stuff, somebody turns on the rain machine. The bright stuff is never colorfast.” Best of all, lifting the curtain, King prefaces the stories with notes about how they came about (“This one had to be told, because I knew exactly what kind of language I wanted to use”). Those notes alone make this a must for aspiring writers.

Readers seeking a tale well told will take pleasure in King’s sometimes-scary, sometimes merely gloomy pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1167-9

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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